- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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TORONTO -- Steven Stamkos added a new wrinkle to his Olympic comeback hopes, telling a huge media contingent here Tuesday morning that it's not inconceivable for him to play in Sochi even if he doesn't get into an NHL game beforehand.
All along the plan seemed to be that he would need to play in one or two NHL games before a decision was made on Sochi.
The Tampa Bay Lightning superstar stressed more than once during his eight-minute media scrum that his goal and his preference remained to get into a few NHL games next week before a decision is made on his Olympic participation, but for the first time also allowed another possible scenario.
"The objective is to play a game [in the NHL], that would be something I would really love to do," Stamkos said to a throng of media at the Air Canada Centre. "But if that's not the case, there's going to be another discussion about whether or not I'm still going to be on that team if I can't play a game. We've had brief discussions about that, it's more or less been 'We'll cross that bridge when [if] we need to.'"
It just so happens that his general manager in Tampa, Steve Yzerman, is the same man who also is at the helm of Team Canada, which certainly facilitates things.
"If we have to sit down a couple of days before we have to leave for the Olympics, we can be honest with each other," Stamkos said of his eventual chat with Yzerman.
"If I say that I'm at the level I think I need to be at to compete at the Olympics, I think he's going to have the trust in me that I can go over there and play at that level. But at the end of the day, I have to be honest with him. If I say I'm not ready, obviously I'm not going to go."
When asked by ESPN.com about Stamkos' comments that going to Sochi without playing an NHL game was a possibility, Yzerman confirmed it's among the different options, again very much depending on where he is physically.
"We're not going to rule anything out," Yzerman said on the phone Tuesday. "We don't really have to jump to any conclusions yet. It's one step at a time. A week ago he had the X-ray at the 10-week mark and the doctors advised him to increase the intensity of his workouts on and off the ice and see how he responds to that. So that's what he's done for the last week.
"He's still hopeful to play at some point next week but we don't know yet if that's realistic or not. Once he gets home from the trip he'll meet again with the doctors and see what they come up with at that point. But until he's cleared for a game, whether it's prior to leaving or not, there's not much really to say, but we're going to keep all the options open and make the appropriate decisions when the time comes."
Right now, however, Team Canada is operating as though Stamkos is going until told otherwise.
Stamkos skated for about 15 minutes Tuesday morning joining his teammates at their pregame, morning skate. He didn't appear to put too much stress on the healing right leg.
It's been 78 days since he broke the leg in Boston. It's been an incredible recovery so far. The normal recovery time for a broken leg is 3-6 months.
"It's been a long process, the strides that we've made have been a little bit quicker than probably I've expected," said the Markham, Ontario, native.
On Monday, Stamkos abruptly left the ice in Tampa after his leg didn't feel right. That news certainly made its way around the hockey world.
But Stamkos said they were just being cautious.
"I felt a lot better today," he said. "It's a process. Yesterday I took the day off, did an off-ice workout, felt a lot better today. Obviously we were smart with it, and it paid off."
The difference between Monday and Tuesday?
"Just a little pain in certain areas [on Monday]," Stamkos said. "Basically really that's what it is, the bone is really strong right now, the X-rays look really good, it's more small tissue stuff, stuff that over time you're still going to have to deal with. Yesterday we just aired on the side of caution, and it felt a lot better today."
There are good days and bad days but he needs to minimize those bad days now with the clock ticking on Sochi.
"From the beginning, we said there's going to be some days where it feels great, some days that it doesn't. That hasn't changed throughout the last couple of weeks," Stamkos said. "There have been a lot of good days, so yesterday you're a little frustrated when it doesn't feel as nice as you want it to, but again, it's nothing that hasn't happened in the past."
Is there a deadline to make a final decision?
"Not really, but it's getting close. We have what, two weeks at the most? Obviously there will be a lot of discussions over the next few days as regard to how it's feeling. The goal was that I would like to get in at least one game if I'm going to go play in the Olympics. We're still on that track right now. ...
"We'll see where it goes."
He'll have another X-ray next week, which will be a very important one. He needs medical clearance for full contact at some point before he attempts his comeback for real.
In the final analysis, he'll be the best judge of all, which includes whether or not he suits up for a game or two next week before the break.
"At the end of the day, it's going to go on how my body feels, and if I feel I can play at that level," said Stamkos. "Whether it's two games, one game, if I don't play a game and feel great heading into the tournament, that's a discussion that we're going to have to have with first off, our medical staff here in Tampa, and obviously with Steve Yzerman ... We're going to be well aware of what's going on."
Before he plays in a game, he needs to get knocked around in practice.
"It's got to feel good in practice with some contact, there's no denying that," he said. "You can't mimick a game-like situation without playing in a game. But at least get a good couple of hard practices in with contact and we're not there yet. There's not a lot of time, if it's going to happen it's going to have to happen in the next week or so."